THE CENTER OF THE WESTERN WORLD
London was – and still is – the center of western progress. For hundreds of years, the British Empire saw and colonized the world. This little island drove innovation across all areas of life – mechanical, economical, medical, military. Not only that, but they have the longest standing monarchy in the western world. I think its important to witness and see this country for yourself and come up with your own observations and opinions on how they succeeded in so many facets of western progress for so many years.
There is so much to do and see in London, that you will have to resign to yourself that you will not see everything you want to see in one trip. Its just not possible! I themed my past couple trips: my first was all the key sights, and the second was areas I’m most interested in (the monarchy, art, military history, scientific/medical history).
- Currency: Pound Sterling (GBP)
- Getting here: Heathrow (LHR)
- Getting Around: Tube & Taxi
- Where to Stay: Hazlitt’s
- Key Sights: Westminster Abbey*, British Museum*, Churchill War Rooms*, Imperial War Museum*, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, Covent Garden, Hyde Park/Kensington Palace
If you have more time: Natural History Museum, The Royal Mews, The Ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Portobello Road/Notting Hill, St. James Cathedral, The Old Operating Theater, Sherlock Holmes Museum, Harrods, National Portrait Gallery, Platform 9 3/4 (Kings Cross Station), Shoreditch, Dennis Severs House.
- Popular for Afternoon Tea:
Most major cities fly direct into Heathrow (LHR).
Once you land at the airport, you have a couple options on getting into the city:
- Train/Tube: I’m always a fan of taking public transportation from the airport to save money. There is a train that can take you into the city, or even some tube lines as well.
- If you’re staying at Hazlitt’s, you can take the Piccadilly line all the way to the hotel.
- Taxi: Also an option for curbside drop-off. The drive is around an hour, and will be more pricey. Sometimes I do catch a cab if I’m tired from the flight.
London is a walking city, so you will primarily spend your days in the Tube and on foot. I rarely use cabs outside of transport to and from the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
I recommend spending almost a week in London, five nights.
- Don’t try to do too much! You have to accept you won’t see everything in one trip. It’s so important to take the time to rest, go to a pub, and enjoy the restaurant scene too.
- Make reservations for restaurants / afternoon tea ahead of time. Due to covid, pretty much all restaurants accept reservations.
- Don’t waste time waiting in queue for tickets! If you’re able to get tickets for sights in advance, you need to do it. Before you get on the airplane. Here are the places where you can get tickets ahead of time:
DAY 1 – Travel Day
- Afternoon activity: Covent Garden
- Covent Garden is a fun place to walk around and do some light shopping. I pick up Whittard Tea when I’m here. I wouldn’t recommend eating around here, it’s pretty touristy.
- Drinks: Local Soho pub – pop into any pub around the hotel for a beer!
Dinner: Duck & Rice
- Duck & Rice is modern Dim Sum with shareable plates.
- Depending on your jetlag energy level, you can either sit informally at the pub, or make a reservation for the upstairs restaurant.
- We stopped here for a pint multiple times during our stay. We loved trying their tank beer and the cask ales.
DAY 2 – East Side
AM Activity – Tower of London
The Tower of London has so much history, and it allows you to understand what a medieval castle was like. Built in the 1000s, the tower was both a castle and prison. Later it was an armory, treasury, royal mint, and houses the Crown Jewels.
- Its fun to take your time, stroll around and visit the different buildings.
Cross The Tower Bridge
Lunch: Borough Market
Come with an empty stomach because you’re going to want to try everything here.
These are my favorites:
- Padella (fresh pasta)
Portena Empanadas (snack on one while you wait for your seat at Padella!)
Katzenjammers (melted cheese!) – A traditional beer hall specializing in cheese. You can stop here to sit down and eat, or order from the stall outside.
- If you’re here in the fall / winter, also stop to get some mulled wine!
Old Operating Room Theater
PM Activity – The Tate Modern
To walk off all the food you just ate… take a stroll along the Thames.
You’ll pass by Shakespeare’s Globe. You can get a tour of the Globe, and even see a play there.
The Tate Modern houses Britain’s gallery of modern art – it has the largest collection of modern art in the world. Its located in an old Power Station which makes for a very large and open floorplan. My recommendation is just to stroll through the various floors and galleries.
Siesta back at hotel
- Take a siesta after all the walking and eating. Enjoy sitting in the libraries of Hazlitt’s and fix yourself a drink from the Honour Bar.
Dinner: Dishoom (Soho or Carnaby locations)
This is one of the most widely reviewed and popular Indian restaurant franchises in London.
DAY 3 – Close to Home
Breakfast: Gail’s Bakery Soho
- This amazing bakery is only a block from Hazlitt’s. Since the hotel doesn’t provide free breakfast, one of my most important trip preparations is finding a nearby healthy and easy breakfast spot.
- The bread is fresh, the coffee flavorful, and it had a variety of egg / oatmeal dishes that were delicious.
AM Activity – British Museum
Where to begin … this museum is HUGE. One of my favorite things to do in museums this large is go to the gift shop first. I find post cards of items / art that I find interesting…and then I go find those items in the museum. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and it makes large museums palatable.
Key things to see:
History of Antiquities Room: my favorite rooms in the museum are rooms 1 and 2. They aren’t talked about much, but they document how the west became interested in the past, and discovered there was art and ruins from humans thousands of years ago buried beneath dirt and sand.
The Rosetta Stone: Written in 196 BC in Ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Demotic, this stone unlocked deciphering hieroglyphics.
Department of Greece and Rome: They also have one of the largest collections from the Classical world. The Parthenon Marbles (Elgin Marbles) are the highlight here.
Lunch: Carnaby Street
PM Activity – Buckingham Palace
Confession: I don’t have a desire to tour the inside of Buckingham Palace. I didn’t find the price commensurate with the experience – only seeing The State Rooms. If you do want a tour – you can purchase tickets ahead of time (which I recommend doing).
I have however visited the Royal Mews, aka the Royal Stables. You can see some of the royal horses and get close to the carriages. This was worth it to me!
DAY 4 – Central London
AM Activity – National Gallery
If you’re into art, you’ll love the National Gallery. It houses some important works of art. Because there’s so much to see, I recommend backing into your favorite artists / works of art you want to see and tailoring your visit to those locations. Here are mine:
Da Vinci: The Virgin on the Rocks, St John the Baptist and an Angel
Van Eyck: The Arnolfini Portrait
Van Gogh: The Sunflowers, A Wheatfield with Cypresses
Holbein: The Ambassadors
Monet: Snow at Argenteuil,
La Gare Saint-Lazare
Titian: Bacchus and Ariadne
Rembrandt: Self Portrait at the Age of 34, at the Age of 63
Turner: The Fighting Temeraire, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway
You can then stroll through Trafalgar Square on your way to grab lunch on Carnaby Street.
Lunch: Carnaby Street – try out a different restaurant!
PM Activity – Churchill War Rooms
The Cabinet War Rooms is one of the most unique museum experiences. You get to tour the historic underground British command center for World War II. The preservation is remarkable, and you get to really immerse yourself in what it was like to live and work there during the war. Conjoining the war rooms is a museum documenting the life of Winston Churchill.
Dinner: Barrafina Soho
Down the street from Hazlitts is Barrafina. While it has yummy Spanish tapas, the vibe is what really makes the restaurant exciting and fun at night.
DAY 5 – South Side
Breakfast: Gail’s Bakery Soho
AM Activity – Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum is one of my favorite museums in London. If there’s one thing the British can do, its go to war. This museum is a time capsule of British military history, and the sheer number of tanks, bombers, cannons, vehicles is mind-blowing (pun intended). Prepare to spend a few hours here.
PM Activity – Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is my favorite place to visit in London. Built in the 1000s, the Abbey has survived the Reformation and wars, and houses so much history – including the graves of many important people throughout history. Make sure you listen to the audio guide that is provided!
- Burial site of the monarchy: Edward I-VI, Henry III, V, VII, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots.
- Scientists: Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking
- Poet’s Corner: Chaucer, Dickens, Blake, T.S. Eliot, Keats, Kipling,
- Coronation Chair: This chair was made in 1301 for Edward I, and has been used in every coronation since.
On your way back to the hotel, take a stroll by Parliament and Big Ben, and you’ll also see the London Eye across the river.
Dinner: Pop into a pub in Soho and have some fish and chips!
DAY 6 – Kensington
Breakfast: Gail’s Bakery Soho
AM Activity – Hyde Park
o Stroll Hyde Park with a cup of coffee.
o On the east side of the park is Kensington Palace – a residence of the Royal Family since the 1600s, and official residence of Princess Diana. Prince William and his family currently reside there.
o If you’re interested in shopping, you can walk a few blocks into Notting Hill to Portobello Road.
PM Activity – Stroll around Kensington
Harrods: I think Harrods is overrated. If you do want to check it out, avoid the actual shopping and stick to the food. Stroll through the food halls and pick up some teas and pastries.
For your last night, treat yourself to a more formal dinner – and the best Indian food you’ll ever have.
- Situated in an old bank, the atmosphere here is energetic, and did I mention how good the food is?